The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Outdoors

June 15, 2014

Go snorkeling and learn about aquatic life

CAMERON — In just a few weeks temperatures will get uncomfortably warm. A great source of thermal relief is a spring-fed stream where one can wallow on a hot summer day. Such days are great opportunities to study aquatic life.

With just a facemask, a snorkel, and an old pair of sneakers, you can observe aquatic life on its own terms — underwater. Snorkeling opens a whole new world for curious naturalists.

Though many people associate snorkeling with coral reefs or tropical lagoons, cold rural streams offer great local snorkeling opportunities closer to home.

Regardless where you snorkel, however, make safety your primary concern. Never snorkel alone. Stay in shallow water. And never explore under large rocks or submerged logs.

Before getting wet, walk a length of stream, and notice it consists of two parts: slow moving pools and rapidly flowing riffles.

Pools may be as small as a birdbath or as large as a swimming pool. When I find an inviting knee-deep pool, I put on my mask and snorkel, float face down, and watch. Within a few minutes, curious fish approach. Invest 15 minutes, and you’ll probably see at least a few sunfish.

In bigger, darker pools, scan under a tangle of roots or under floating logs. These dark refuges provide excellent cover where larger predatory fish such as trout and bass await passing prey -- insects, smaller fish, frogs, snakes.

Even more interesting are the smaller fish found in the shallow, rapidly flowing riffles. This is the noisy, “gurgling” part of the stream. Here, where the flow rate is often so fast it seems every living thing should be swept away, is where the darters live.

Facing upstream, lie down in a riffle to view the darters. Inch into the current and scan the rubble. Notice the small fish darting among the stones.

Darters are suited to life in swift currents. Some position themselves on the upstream side of larger rocks where the current is significantly slower. Others wedge themselves between the stones on a tripod consisting of the tail and pelvic fins. Still others bury all but their heads in fine sand or gravel.

Masters of disguise, darters can be drab and difficult to see. Some, though, display almost gaudy patterns of reds, blues, and oranges. Brightly colored darters are the warblers of the fish world.

But it’s not necessary to get wet to observe aquatic life. On the water’s surface you’ll find predaceous water striders and frantically active whirligig beetles searching hunting for prey. Where the water is clear, you may see crayfish patrolling the streambed.

But most freshwater invertebrates stay hidden beneath large flat rocks that cover clear stream bottoms. Gravel stream bottoms are home to many species of freshwater clams, mussels, snails, and larval aquatic insects. Flip large flat rocks, let the current clear the sediment, and you’ll observe an impressive diversity of aquatic life.

The flat-bodied creatures that cling tenaciously to the undersides of submerged rocks are stonefly and mayfly larvae. From the tip of the abdomen of stonefly larvae, you’ll notice two tail-like filaments. Larval mayflies have three such tails. The presence of stoneflies and mayflies indicate clean water that should hold catchable fish.

My favorite aquatic insects are caddisfly larvae. If you notice a bundle of tiny pebbles or twigs moving across the stream bottom, watch it closely. Pick one up, and you’ll discover it’s home to an insect. On one end there’s a head and thorax, complete with legs. The soft tissues of the abdomen are protected by the case that surrounds it.

Caddisfly larvae build their own house and carry it on their back. The weight of the case helps anchor the larvae in moving water, and it’s excellent camouflage when the larvae rests. The materials used to make such cases include grains of sand, tiny pebbles, and sometimes plant material. Some of the pebble-users actually build a spiral case that can easily pass for a snail.

No one hates hot steamy weather more than I, but it presents a great opportunity to get wet, stay cool, and learn a little natural history.

— Dr. Scott Shalaway can be heard 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at www.watchdognetwork.com. Visit Scott’s web site www.drshalawaycom or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

1
Text Only
Outdoors
  • 071714 Coda and Callie.jpg Coda and Callie’s excellent adventure

    How is it something that you profess to love so much can cause you so much anxiety and grief? No, I’m not talking about dealing with your children (or your spouse). This is worse. This is about dogs. More specifically, hunting dogs. 

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 071314 Chris Ellis.jpg DNR’s ‘outdoor summer school’

    Attention all West Virginia hunters and trappers. It is once again time for outdoor summer school and the course materials are hot off the presses.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Meet the Eurasian collared-dove

    Back in 1974 a local pigeon fancier imported a flock of about 50 Eurasian collared-doves to the Bahamas. Ultimately he released the birds, and they took to living in the West Indies. By the late 1970s some had reached south Florida, and by the late 1980s, some had been seen in Georgia and Arkansas.

    July 13, 2014

  • July in W.Va.: Recreational opportunities abound

    It’s July in the West Virginia mountains, which brings vibrant orange tiger lilies, blooming rhododendron, and of course fireworks. Usually the heat and humidity is in full force, but so far the weather has been nice.

    July 13, 2014

  • Shotgun 101: Shoot more and live better

    “God is not on the side of big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.”
    — Voltaire

    July 9, 2014

  • Fireflies are living lights

    At recent Fourth of July fireworks displays, spectators squealed with delight at the annual spectacle that illuminated the night sky. And I’m sure more than a few compared the spectacular pyrotechnics to the subtler displays of fireflies that punctuate backyards, parks, and campgrounds all summer long. We call these displays “nature’s fireworks.”

    July 5, 2014

  • Get on up, or you’ll get left behind

    “Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.” —
    William Shakespeare

    July 3, 2014

  • Catfish, it's whats for dinner

    I think for far too long the catfish has had an image problem. They seemed to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the fish world. You know, they got no respect. Fortunately though (maybe unfortunately if you are a catfish), that seems to be in the past. They are a fish whose time has come.

    June 28, 2014

  • It’s more than a boat, it’s an adventure

    Growing up on Elk River, I couldn’t help being connected to the river and its waters. It is where I caught my first fish, learned to swim, paddle a canoe, to read water and throw a buzz bait, killed my first duck, gigged frogs and spent many a Saturday night fishing for catfish. We lived in a river bank community, and the Elk provided us with everything from water for our homes to all the recreation a young boy would need to fill his youthful requirements for adventure.

    June 28, 2014

  • Old friends at the beach

    If your summer vacation plans include a trip to an east coast beach, I can’t predict everything you might see. But one bird that I guarantee you’ll encounter many times is the laughing gull.

    June 28, 2014

Web Special Sections
  • Special Web Sections

    Click HERE for stories about natural gas and Marcellus shale gas extraction.

    Click HERE for stories about the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

    Click HERE for stories about the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

    Click HERE for stories from The Greenbrier Classic PGA TOUR event.

    August 6, 2010

Helium debate
Helium
AP Video
Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites Anti-violence Advocate Killed, but Not Silenced. Dempsey: Putin May Light Fire and Lose Control Arizona Prison Chief: Execution Wasn't Botched Calif. Police Investigate Peacock Shooting Death Raw: Protesters, Soldiers Clash in West Bank Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' 'Modern Family' Star on Gay Athletes Coming Out MN Twins Debut Beer Vending Machine DA: Pa. Doctor Fired Back at Hospital Gunman Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase